[Review] Kansas: The Ultimate Kansas (2002)

The best of Kansas stretched across two (later three) discs.

Kronomyth 17.5: The closet chronicles.

Kansas will ultimately be remembered for two albums: Leftoverture and Point of Know Return. That pair constitutes nearly half of The Ultimate Kansas, with classic album tracks like “Cheyenne Anthem,” “The Wall” and “Closet Chronicles” now taking their rightful place alongside the band’s most popular works. The rest of this double-disc compilation follows the story from their eponymous, adventurous debut into the Eighties (Vinyl Confessions, Drastic Measures). As Kansas fans know, the story didn’t end there; licensing issues with MCA may have been the cause for the missing chapters (Power, In the Spirit of Things). Instead, The Ultimate Kansas lingers on the band’s interesting early albums (Kansas, Song for America, Masque) and respectable, post-platinum product (Monolith, Audio-Visions).

Hearing these songs out of their original context and in full digital splendor has again shed new light on old wonders. I began to catalog an imaginary list of songs that I may have wrongly tagged as clumsy or derivative: “Child of Innocence,” “The Pinnacle,” “Song for America,” “Sparks of the Tempest.” The Ultimate Kansas makes a compelling case for Kansas as the greatest American prog band from that original era. (I’d give them the nod over Styx most days.) Surely if we’re to heap praises at the feet of Fly By Night and Styx II, we need to accord the same honors to Song for America and Masque.

Given the dearth of truly top-rate prog (relative to my insatiable demand for it), the early career of Kansas deserves a pedestal of its own. Yet even I might pile it no higher than Point, leaving Monolith and later in boxes lest their inferior inspiration obscure the true craftsmanship of Kansas. Releasing “Fight Fire With Fire” in such rarefied air, for example, proves particularly problematic.

The Ultimate Kansas does a respectable job of picking and choosing, noting that I always stumble over the hard rock entries (“Lonely Street,” “Down the Road”). The packaging is regrettably light (despite a promotional sticker’s exhortation otherwise), though the trifold tray is an interesting solution to a perennial problem. In 2008, the Legacy label added a third disc to Ultimate and re-released it as The Essential Kansas, essentially presenting all of Leftoverture and Point in piecemeal across three discs.

Original 2CD version

Disc One
A1. Carry on Wayward Son (Kerry Livgren) (5:22)
A2. Song for America (Kerry Livgren) (10:01)
A3. The Wall (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (4:48)
A4. Lonely Street (Steve Walsh/Dave Hope/Rich Williams/Phil Ehart) (5:42)
A5. Journey from Mariabronn (Kerry Livgren/Stee Walsh) (7:57)
A6. Child of Innocence (Kerry Livgren) (4:31)
A7. Mysteries and Mayhem (Steve Walsh/Kerry Livgren) (4:12)
A8. The Pinnacle (Kerry Livgren) (9:34)
A9. Bringing It Back (J.J. Cale) (3:33)
A10. Down the Road (Steve Walsh/Kerry Livgren) (3:44)
A11. What’s on My Mind (Kerry Livgren) (3:28)
A12. Death of Mother Nature Suite (Kerry Livgren) (7:53)

Disc Two
B1. Point of Know Return (Steve Walsh/Phil Ehart/Robby Steinhardt) (3:11)
B2. Cheyenne Anthem (Kerry Livgren) (6:53)
B3. Fight Fire with Fire (John Elefante/Dino Elefante) (3:39)
B4. Dust in the Wind (Kerry Livgren) (3:26)
B5. Hold On (Kerry Livgren) (3:51)
B6. No One Together (Kerry Livgren) (6:57)
B7. Play the Game Tonight (Kerry Livgren/Phil Ehart/Rich Williams/Danny Flower/Rob Frazier) (3:26)
B8. Closet Chronicles (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (6:29)
B9. Sparks of the Tempest (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (4:12)
B10. Portrait (He Knew) (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (4:32)
B11. On the Other Side (Kerry Livgren) (6:23)
B12. People of the South Wind (Kerry Livgren) (3:37)
B13. A Glimpse of Home (Kerry Livgren) (6:33)
B14. Magnum Opus (live) (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh/Rich Williams/Dave Hope/Phil Ehart/Robby Steinhardt) (8:58)

Disc Three (available with The Essential Kansas reissue)
C1. Can I Tell You
C2. Lamplight Symphony
C3. Miracles Out of Nowhere
C4. Questions of My Childhood
C5. Paradox
C6. The Spider
C7. Got to Rock On

The Players

Compilation produced by Jeff Glixman and Jeff Magid; Phil Ehart: watchful eye; project directed by John Jackson.

The Pictures

Art direction by Howard Fritzson. Design by Ron Kellum/Kellum McClain Inc. Front cover illustration by Andy Lackow. Photography by Don Hunstein. Packaging managed by Mark Unterberger.

The Plastic

Released on 2CD on July 2, 2002 in the US (Epic/Legacy, E2K 86452), the UK (Epic/Legacy, 508066) and Japan (Epic/Legacy, EICP-7073/4).

  1. Re-packaged as The Essential Kansas: Limited Edition 3.0 on expanded 3CD on August 26, 2008 in the US (Sony/Legacy, 28951).

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